Military News

Q&A: S.C. Marines in Afghanistan

More than four dozen South Carolinians are serving with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. Recently a few of the S.C. Marines answered a questionaire e-mailed to them by The State. Here's a transcript of their answers:

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Pfc. Jacob Turner, Abbeville

Capt. Joshua Brindel, Irmo

Lance Cpl. Shanika Felder, Manning

Sgt Kristopher Fleming, Beaufort

Sgt. Joshua Long, Hampton County

Cpl. Chris Mallett, Levelland

Cpl. James Smith, Darlington

Lance Cpl. Corey P. Bryant, Rock Hill

Lance Cpl. Matthew Brock, Spartanburg

Sgt. James A Ramsey, Chesnee

Pfc. Jacob Turner, Abbeville

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How long have you been in the Marine Corps?

1 year

Have you been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan before? If so, when?

No

What's your job in Afghanistan?

I am a Radio Operator

Have you had a chance to meet and work with the Afghan people? What's your impression of the Afghans? What do you think of the land and climate?

I have worked with them a little since I have been here; they are very simple people, with simple lives. It is different than South Carolina. I have seen a lot of sand and some trees but they are few and far between. The climate is hot but it is different kind of heat than what I am used to, like in the south where it is humid during the summer time, here it is dry heat.

What's the toughest thing you've had to do in Afghanistan?

Set up communications for the other Marines.

What's the biggest challenge that you've faced so far?

Being away from family and friends.

What do you think has been your most important achievement or contribution to the MEU's mission thus far?

Setting up communications for the Marines so we can support the infantry.

So far how are you and your fellow Marines holding up?

We are in high spirits but also ready to see our loved ones.

Capt. Joshua Brindel, Irmo

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How long have you been in the Marine Corps?

6 years

Have you been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan before? If so, when?

Yes. Iraq: Feb-Oct 2005 (Fallujah); Aug 2006-May 2007 (Ar Ramadi); Afghanistan: Feb-present 2008

What's your job in Afghanistan?

Officer in Charge of Intermediate Support Base (ISB) for 24 MEU, and Assistant Operations Officer for Combat Logistics Battalion 24.

Have you had a chance to meet and work with the Afghan people? What's your impression of the Afghans? What do you think of the land and climate?

I have had the chance to work with local national contractors that provide basic life support services to our camp. They do not have many resources to work with, but have a lot of ingenuity and make the most with what they have. The area we are in is very barren and in the middle of the desert. It is hot and arid with little relief. Finding shade or an area with air condition is at a premium.

What's the toughest thing you've had to do in Afghanistan?

Organizing a 200 man detachment consisting of aviation assets, heavy trucks, engineering support, and security forces to accomplish a single goal.

What's the biggest challenge that you've faced so far?

Working in a multi-national environment. Learning different militaries terminology and way of conducting business took a while, but once there was a mutual understanding we were able to mutually support one another. There are over four different nationalities and three different languages that are spoken. Though, English is the language used while conducting business on base.

What do you think has been your most important achievement or contribution to the MEU's mission thus far?

It is easy because we do it everyday. We provide intermediate logistical support to the infantry battalion. Everything from supply support (food, water, fuel, basic personal items, construction material, repair parts), motor transport support, engineering support, Material Handling Support (fork lifts and front end loaders), and aviation support. We are enablers of the fighting force in that we provide everything needed for the Marines on the front line to continue the fight. When the infantry succeed, we know that it is because of their hard work, but also because we enabled them to do their mission. We have no job if it was not for the infantry, and they could not do their job without our support.

So far how are you and your fellow Marines holding up?

These Marines here are highly motivated professionals. Although they can not wait to see friends, families, and some with new additions; they are focused on the mission at hand and are ready to see it through until the deployment is over.

Lance Cpl. Shanika Felder, Manning

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How long have you been in the Marine Corps?

I have been enlisted for 22 months

Have you been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan before? If so, when?

No, I have never deployed before, this is first and not my last deployment.

What's your job in Afghanistan?

Currently I am armor, I supply the pilots, crew chief and other Marines with ammunition and weapons.

Have you had a chance to meet and work with the Afghan people? What's your impression of the Afghans? What do you think of the land and climate?

I haven’t actually haven’t had the chance to directly work with the Afghan people. I think of Afghanistan as a beach without water. The climate is always hot and there is always sand and dirt. Afghanistan is actually a beautiful place, if there weren’t any sandstorms.

What's the toughest thing you've had to do in Afghanistan?

Adapting to the climate and schedules

What's the biggest challenge that you've faced so far?

The toughest thing for me is, keeping my composure when we are getting attacked. Staying calm, so other Marines don’t freak out.

What do you think has been your most important achievement or contribution to the MEU's mission thus far?

My most important achievement to the MEU mission is being able to distribute the protection we need to get home safely.

So far how are you and your fellow Marines holding up?

My fellow Marines and I are doing well. We treat each day like it’s our first day in Afghanistan.

Sgt Kristopher Fleming, Beaufort

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How long have you been in the Marine Corps?

12 years with a two and a half year break in service.

Have you been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan before? If so, when?

No, this is my first deployment in support of OEF/ OIF (Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom).

What's your job in Afghanistan?

I’m the SNCOIC (staff non-commissioned officer in charge) of the MWSS-274 Fuels and Expeditionary Air Field. I ensure that our aircraft receive fuel out at our Forward bases.

Have you had a chance to meet and work with the Afghan people?

Yes, on a few occasions.

What's your impression of the Afghans?

Very nice people, but they do want a lot. The culture is on the way, way other end of the spectrum compared to the American culture. I have worked with some contractors who are the nicest people. I have asked them what they thought of the US and NATO being here and if they thought it was a good thing. Every response I have gotten was yes we are glad you are here to help and you’re not trying to take over like every one else in our history.

What do you think of the land and climate?

Truthfully? It sucks. I’m not one for the dust and the dry heat and most of all the lack of trees.

What's the toughest thing you've had to do in Afghanistan?

Work some long hours in support of missions, and being a father to 3 little girls 8, 5 and now 3 you can see coming to Afghanistan was a tough thing to do. But I’m here for a reason and to help the people of Afghanistan and protect my family and country. So it’s worth it.

What's the biggest challenge that you've faced so far?

Dealing with the heat while working farther south in the country, wearing our protective gear when it’s 100+ most days gets hard.

What do you think has been your most important achievement or contribution to the MEU's mission thus far?

The installation of the AM2 matting, that MWSS-274 helped MWSS-271 install for the helicopters to park on. This was a joint effort and MWSS-271 did a great job. (Note from the PAO - AM2 matting is the tiles we lay down to create an expeditionary runway in an austere environment.)

So far how are you and your fellow Marines holding up?

We have our days, I know I have the “This sucks, can we go now?” days and just want it to get over with. I miss my family and am ready to see some green. My fellow Marines are doing well, I know they all feel the same way about wanting to get home but we all know if we take care of each other we will get this done and be home before we know it.

Sgt. Joshua Long, Hampton County

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How long have you been in the Marine Corps?

About 8 years

Have you been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan before? If so, when?

Afghanistan in ’04 and presently; Iraq in ’05 and ‘06/07

What's your job in Afghanistan?

I’m an infantryman. I conduct foot patrols and set in positions watching over other Marines and civilians to help ensure their safety.

Have you had a chance to meet and work with the Afghan people? What's your impression of the Afghans? What do you think of the land and climate?

Afghan people are hard working people with very strong family/tribe values. Along rivers the land is green and can be a beautiful sight. The weather is fairly hot during the summers.

What's the biggest challenge that you've faced so far?

Drinking enough water to stay hydrated.

What do you think has been your most important achievement or contribution to the MEU's mission thus far?

Providing safe areas and routes so that everyone can do their part, military and civilian alike.

So far how are you and your fellow Marines holding up?

Doing a lot of joking and laughing so, I would have to say we are fine.

Cpl. Chris Mallett, Levelland

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How long have you been in the Marine Corps?

I hit my three year mark in nine days.

Have you been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan before? If so, when?

My first deployment was to Iraq doing provisional military police work from August 2006 - March 2007.

What's your job in Afghanistan?

This is going to be a little hectic. My job is a fire direction control man, but at the beginning of this deployment I was pulled to work with the commanding officer of the artillery battery to work in the fire support coordination center and be part of his personal security detachment.

Have you had a chance to meet and work with the Afghan people? What's your impression of the Afghans? What do you think of the land and climate?

Yes, I see them going back and forth at the civil military operations center (CMOC). Most of them seem content with what they are doing. They just work around us. It does get hot here. It’s like having a blow dryer in your face and throwing sand in front of the blow dryer. We do have moon dust here, powder sand… it’s nasty. (A lot of where we drive) there are no real roads, just driving through the desert. Not a whole lot of foliage, just one river.

Challenge:

Getting out of the Iraq mindset, always looking for IEDs or someone taking pop-shots at you. Most of these people are content to watch us drive by and send their children out to beg for food, water or candy.

What's the biggest challenge that you've faced so far?

Holding security at the Afghan National Police station. If there was a perfect plan to get two US humvees blown up, that was it. The ANP weren’t searching guys; finally I had to get a linguist to tell them they needed to check every person and vehicle coming into that place.

Our higher ups were meeting with an Afghan minister.

What do you think has been your most important achievement or contribution to the MEU's mission thus far?

Being pulled out to work in the FSCC (fire support coordination center) and work on the PSD (personal security detachment for Maj. McCarroll. They brought me up here so I could work in the FSCC, he grabbed three people who are all good at their job to fill the role of eight people in a combat environment.

So far how are you and your fellow Marines holding up?

I’m good, just another deployment. It was going slow for a couple of weeks, but things started to go a lot quicker. The transition from kinetic to non-kinetic operations was the slowest part of this deployment. The end is in sight.

Cpl. James Smith, Darlington

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How long have you been in the Marine Corps?

Almost 4 years

Have you been on previous deployments? If so when and where?

No, I was in Security Forces so this is my first deployment

Describe your job

I’m a radio operator for 2nd squad, 2nd platoon, Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (BLT 1/6)

Have you met/worked with any Afghans? If so what was your impression of them?

I’ve met a lot on patrols; I haven’t worked with them yet. Some are alright, they’re happy that we are here and are glad for the help. Some seem like they don’t care. It seems like their culture needs to modernize.

What are the land/climate like?

It’s a lot of farm land, it’s hot, and there is a lot of barren land, a lot of fields.

What is the toughest thing you’ve had to deal with since being out here?

Being away from my wife and daughter, my daughter was born three weeks before the deployment started.

What has been the biggest challenge while being out here?

Staying focused, dealing with the heat, and not getting complacent.

What has been the biggest accomplishment/contribution to the 24th MEU you’ve had?

Completing the missions passed on to us and getting rid of the Taliban in the area.

How are you holding up?

Fine, I’m taking it day by day, I miss my wife and daughter but every day done is another day closer to getting out of here.

Lance Cpl. Corey P. Bryant, Rock Hill

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How long have you been in the Marine Corps?

Joined in 2005

Have you been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan before? If so, when?

Been to Iraq and Afghanistan, as a rifleman in Ramadi, we couldn’t use mortars because of collateral damage. First go there it sucked, by the time we left we knew people’s names we walked down the streets and see people out. We turned the city around.

What's your job in Afghanistan?

Mortar man.

On being a mortar man doing rifleman work:

At the school of infantry you are taught how to do infantrymen stuff, we found out a month before we left we would be doing mortars, so we got put into platoons and started working with them. It wasn’t too much of a change; we still knew how to do all that stuff. Like they say every Marine is a rifleman.

Best memory of Iraq:

The thing I remember the most about Iraq was the friends we made and the friends we lost.

How long were you there?

9 months.

What do you do in Afghanistan?

When we were kinetic, we were actually doing our job - dropping mortars. Now that it’s calmed down and there’s no fighting going on, we are doing the 3rd block of the 3 block war. Shaking hands and kissing babies. We are actually running the entry control point, and we check people to make sure they aren’t transporting weapons or planning on harming anyone - suicide bombers, that type of stuff. In the mortar section, I’m the “A-gunner” (assistant gunner) the person who actually drops the round on the gun. If something happens to the actual gunner, it’s my job to step up. Our main responsibility is to check on the gunner and drop the actual rounds.

What's your impression of local Afghans?

They are happy to see us here. We got rid of the Taliban; they are not under their control. They can move about freely. They do occasionally get irritated when we make them stop so we can search them. They may come through an ECP (entry control point) three or four times a day, and every time they come through we have to search them. Just for our safety and their safety. But they do like us here, and they really appreciate it.

On the climate and land:

It’s not home. It’s hotter than Iraq and you get used to it after a while but it still bites. You are not used to the heat, you are out there every day in the sun, 4 hours plus the heat gets to you.

Toughest thing:

The toughest thing I had to do was when we first landed (in Garmsir) doing the 4 km plus movement to where we finally ended up now, with the combined weight of a days worth of supplies, water, chow plus our mortar system - carrying it all on our backs. I thought about when I’m back home I’ll be able to see my wife, not thinking about the pain that was going through my body.

Biggest challenge:

Being able to control my temper. The heat and other things, a lot of people’s tempers are up, so trying to keep it at an acceptable level.

On helping the 24th MEU’s mission:

Our contribution to the mission, we are helping these people out. Letting them know there is something else out there than being controlled by the Taliban. We do what ISAF instructs us to do. Their mission is higher than what we can comprehend. So we just do what they tell us and we are here for these people.

How are you holding up?

I’m doing good. We have three months left, I’ll be even better when we get home. I'm holding up as well as you can expect here.

Lance Cpl. Matthew Brock, Spartanburg

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How long have you been in the Marines?

2 years

Previous deployments?

This is my first one, but I’m looking forward to Iraq next year.

Job description:

I’m a radio operator. It may sound like a “skate” job, but my platoon is solely responsible for communication for an entire battalion of Marines. Being able to talk can be, and the majority of the time is, the depending factor on whether that wounded Marines dies or makes it back home to his family. There’s three things Marines must be able to do to be successful here or anywhere else -- shoot, move and communicate. Though every Marine is a rifleman, communication is what my guys bring to the fight.

What do I think of Afghanistan?

I’ll say this, if I get back to the states and it’s 90 degrees, you’ll probably see me in a sweat shirt. Seriously though, 120-130 degrees sounds miserable, and believe me it is, but after a while you just adapt and overcome (and get wicked tan lines). As far as the country itself, it’s hard to believe people still live this way. It’s weird being in a place where the main mode of transportation is a triple hump camel, but it definitely gives you a whole new appreciation for the US and those who fought before.

The toughest thing

The toughest thing I’ve done was saying bye to those who had to make the ultimate sacrifice. It blows my mind how you can say, “see you in a few hours,” to someone and the very same day be standing over that same person with an American Flag draped over them.

My biggest challenge

My biggest challenge has been knowing that at any given moment the life of another man, someone’s father, son, husband, could be saved or lost depending on how I do my job.

My biggest contribution

Being a Marine is all about the team. Everyone plays their part and it’s all vital to the defeat of the enemy, but since you asked...My superiors, 1st Lt. Mee and Master Sgt. Braxton, had enough confidence in the proficiency of myself and another lance corporal to conduct communication operations unsupervised for an entire battalion movement into a Taliban infested district. As two junior Marines, myself and Lance Cpl. Steve Lambert, were responsible for several casevacs (casualty evacuations), coordinating reinforcements and many other things that are usually done by a non-commissioned officer or staff NCO. I was also privileged to be my battalion’s executive officer’s, Maj. Clinton, radio operator. He is the second highest office in my chain of command, so to have him pick me, as a lance corporal, was quite an honor.

How are you holding up?

Time actually moves by rather quickly out here. Even with the news of us being extended for a month, it’s really going by fast. Of course, like everyone, I miss home, but it’s a job that you volunteer for so I can’t really complain. I do miss my family and my girl, Liz, but right now my focus is on my brothers and the job that has to be done.

Sgt. James A Ramsey, Chesnee

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How long have you been in the Marine Corps?

4 years and 4 months

Have you been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan before? If so, when?

I was deployed to Iraq in 2005 (Al Asad)

What's your job in Afghanistan?

I do weapons maintenance on for the entire MEU

Have you had a chance to meet and work with the Afghan people? What's your impression of the Afghans? What do you think of the land and climate?

I haven’t had a chance to work directly with the Afghan people. As for the climate it is much like Iraq hot, very dry, and sandy.

What's the toughest thing you've had to do in Afghanistan?

The hardest physical task that I have done is picking up pallets and parachutes from the air drops here.

What's the biggest challenge that you've faced so far?

The biggest challenge was dealing with the loss of our battalion 1stSgt, 1stSgt Luke Mercardante. (Note from PAO: 1stSgt Luke Mercardante was killed in an IED explosion April 15. He was traveling in our first ground convoy from Kandahar to Helmand to put troops and equipment in position for the launch of the operation in Southern Helmand.)

What do you think has been your most important achievement or contribution to the MEU's mission thus far?

Lending a hand whereever I can within the maintenance section here at CLB 24.

So far how are you and your fellow Marines holding up?

My Marines and I stay in good spirits here knowing that we are able to do good things here and soon go home to our loving families.

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